Quotations on sound and silence

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Rests (indications of silence) used in musical notation.

A music appreciation textbook I used to use defined music as sound and silence, organized in time. That’s an awfully broad definition, but it’s right to include silence. Musicians and philosophers have pointed out the relationship between music and silence almost since the beginning of writing about music at all. Here is a selection of quotations.

Music is the silence between the notes ~Claude Debussy

A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence. ~Leopold Stokowski

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides! ~Artur Schnabel
Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ~Victor Hugo

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. ~Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

Music and silence combine strongly because music is done with silence, and silence is full of music. ~Marcel Marceau

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe. ~Lao Tzu

When you play music you discover a part of yourself that you never knew existed. ~Bill Evans

Music and rhythms find their want into the secret places of the soul. ~Plato

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. ~Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name

My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence. ~Edith Sitwell

Those who danced were thought quite insane by those who could not hear the music. ~Angela Monet

Avant-garde composer John Cage once entered an anechoic chamber so that he could experience silence. To his disappointment, even there he heard two distinctly different sounds, one high in pitch and one low. So he asked lots of scientists for explanations and determined that the high sound he heard was his nervous system and the low one was the blood circulating through his body.

He concluded that if silence has to mean absence of sound, there is no such thing as silence. Silence can only mean absence of intentional sound. That realization became the impetus for his most famous, or notorious piece, 4’33”–the length of time a performer should remain on stage not making a sound, but quietly divide the piece into three distinct movements.

Cage’s 4’33” is about the only piece that is pointless to buy here!


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